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Eve Pearlman: Building strength with Amy Fasso

Submitted by on 1, February 12, 2010 – 6:00 amNo Comment
Photo by Jan Watten

Photo by Jan Watten

It’s 9:30 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning and Amy Fasso lies prone on a blue exercise mat on the tile floor of the Ruby Bridges Community Center. The dozen or so of us who have enrolled in her circuit training class through the Alameda Recreation and Park Department stand about as we prepare to take our turns. Fasso’s sneakered feet balance against one of those chair-sized inflatable spheres that have become ubiquitous in gyms during the last decade. She demonstrates the mechanics of ‘a pelvic tilt with hamstring curl.’

The soles of her feet rest parallel against the bright red ball as she raises her hips. She keeps her shoulders motionless on the mat, and then pushes the ball forward with her feet. Her legs extend, steadily and evenly. “You really want to focus on squeezing the glutes,” she says. “And you don’t want to hyperextend.” Each motion she makes is precise, defined.

Fasso makes it look easy, giving us pointers for when we take our turns. “Hips don’t sag,” she says. “And the back doesn’t arch up either.” She also demonstrates ways to modify the drill. “Try simply lifting your hips up and down and then lowering them down,” she says. “Or put the ball against the wall to steady it.”

On Saturday mornings a group of us spend 90 minutes cycling through Fasso’s stations, each one designed to strengthen a part or parts of the body, from lungs to shoulders. Squats are the hardest for me. But Fasso cheers us on. “Twenty more seconds,” she might say, and take up the posture next to one of us. “Now ten.”

There’s always variety. A couple weeks ago she brought a ping-pong sized ‘agility ball,” an odd-shaped object that, in a demanding test of reflexes, we throw against the ground and attempt to catch on the rebound. We laugh a lot and push ourselves a little more. “With my classes,” says Fasso. “There’s always a community feeling – it’s a group of people working together and helping each other to feel good and get healthy.”

Fasso moved to Alameda with her family when she was five. She attended Saint Joe’s through eighth grade and then graduated from Alameda High. Fasso studied ballet for many years and was a cheerleader, but she recommitted herself to exercise after the birth of her children – Christopher, born in 1998, and April, born in 2000. As she returned to fitness – shaking off the last of her pregnancy weight and some of the stress and anxiety of new motherhood – she felt re-energized and inspired to help others.

She earned her personal training license and began working at Mariner Square Athletic Club where, from 2006 until this past fall, she taught a circuit class and worked as a personal trainer. Her clients are more than clients, she says – they very often become friends. “I feel so passionate about the impact exercise had on my life that I wanted to share that with other people,” says Fasso.

Now back in school at Emeryville’s National Holistic Institute studying massage therapy, Fasso’s goal is to increase her skills and her knowledge of the human body in order to help people better care for themselves. “I’m letting it evolve and having faith,” said Fasso.

Starting in early March, Fasso will begin teaching another class through Alameda’s park department called “Body Balance.” Fasso designed the class with stretches and strength-training specifically to help people improve their posture – many people, she says, because of their time spent at computers, develop the imbalances of the same sort. And end up, says Fasso, with elevated shoulders and rounded backs. Which, says Fasso, “leads to poor posture and to neck and back pain.”

To Fasso, exercise is more than mere mechanics. “I want to inspire people, to give them something to take home with them,” she says, “something they remember for the rest of the week.”

I take home the image of Fasso demonstrating each motion for us with precision, grace, and clarity. There is no wasted movement, no shaking or fumbling or readjusting. For me, this image supplements the workout. It is a small thing, but with disheartening developments all around, from melting ice caps to underfunded schools, it’s pleasurable and satisfying to leave the community center with images of actions well done.

Eve Pearlman offers her take on Alameda’s stories, big and small, every Friday on The Island. Contact her at eve@theislandofalameda.com.

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